Thursday, the U.S. Army will host events at posts across the country aimed at helping soldiers and family members recognize when a friend or loved one needs help. The event comes on the heels of the Army seeing a record number of soldiers commit suicide in July. As our Brian Dwyer reports, the Army says it's working hard to help raise awareness and turn around the stigma that's previously kept troubled soldiers quiet.
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- No one denies how the problem started.
"I think at one point, there was perhaps a perception, if not a reality, that if you had a problem, we didn't want you here," Fort Drum Garrison Commander Col. Gary Rosenberg said.
But Fort Drum leaders say everyone needs to be on board with solutions. The Army released staggering numbers showing 38 soldier suicides in July. It's the highest in recent history.
Thursday, Drum and Army posts all across the world will be taking part in a suicide ‘Stand Down.’ It's a day of events aimed at helping soldiers, their family and civilian employees understand the warning signs, strengthen resilience and most importantly, let everyone know it's now okay to ask for help.
"In the past, there was the fear that if I seek behavioral health care, it's a sign of weakness. That is definitely not the case," Lt. Col. Christian Meko, the 10th Mountain Division Surgeon said. "It's actually a sign of strength."
Because often, overcoming that stigma, either by a soldier him or herself, or even by a loved one, can save a life.
"'Hey, this person is hurting. I care," Col. Rosenberg said. "I'm going to step in and help. Usually that's all it takes is someone just to care enough to step in and help."
Throughout the years, the focus of this stigma has normally been on soldiers and them feeling comfortable coming forward. There's greater attention being placed on higher ups, the chain of command, in allowing those soldiers to actually do that.
"It's a part of the promotion processes, part of the developmental processes, part of counseling, to make sure that they understand we want those individuals," Lt. Col. Meko said. "That they understand they have a problem to contend with and address it rather than ignore it and hope it goes away."
"We are putting extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary things are happening to them and not necessarily extraordinary from a positive perspective," Col. Rosenberg added.
Army officials recognize this is a complex problem without a cookie cutter solution. They say events like Thursday's Stand Down can only help in reaching that ultimate goal.
Besides changing the way some things are done on post, Drum officials also say they've doubled the number of providers downrange overseas. They say deployed soldiers have more options for care now than ever before.
To learn more about preventing soldier suicide, you can visit www.preventsuicide.army.mil.